Arnhem Land

Arnhem Land

Arnhem Land, 37,100 sq mi (96,089 sq km), N Northern Territory, Australia, on a wide peninsula W of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The great majority of the region belongs to the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reserve, the largest aboriginal reservation in Australia. Kakadu National Park adjoins the reservation and draws a large number of tourists to its natural beauty and remarkable collection of aboriginal rock art. To the S lies the Beswick Aboriginal Reserve. Bauxite is mined in the area.

The Arnhem Land Region is one of the five regions of the Northern Territory of Australia. It is located in the north-eastern corner of the territory and is around 500km from the territory capital Darwin. The region has an area of 97,000 km² which also covers the area of Kakadu National Park, and a population of 16,230. The region was named by Matthew Flinders after the Dutch ship Arnhem which explored the coast in 1623.


The area extends from Port Roper on the Gulf of Carpentaria around the coast to the East Alligator River where it adjoins Kakadu National Park. The major centres are Jabiru on the Kakadu National Park border, Maningrida on the Liverpool River mouth, and Nhulunbuy (also known as Gove) in the far north-east, on the Gove Peninsula. Gove is the site of large scale Bauxite mining with an associated alumina refinery. Its administrative centre is the town of Nhulunbuy, the fourth-largest population centre in the Northern Territory.

The climate of Arnhem Land is tropical monsoon with a wet and dry season. Temperatures do not fluctuate widely throughout the year, though it can range from overnight lows of 15 degrees Celsius in the dry season (April to September) to daily highs of 33 degrees Celsius in the wet season (October to March).


Declared an Aboriginal Reserve in 1931, it remains one of the largest Aboriginal Reserves in Australia and is perhaps best known for its remoteness, its art, and the strong continuing traditions of its Indigenous inhabitants. Northeast Arnhem Land is home to the indigenous Yolngu people, one of the largest Indigenous groups in Australia, and one who have succeeded in maintaining a vigorous traditional indigenous culture. The Malays and Macassans had contact with the coastal Aboriginal groups and traded with them prior to European settlement of Australia.


The Aboriginal community of Yirrkala, just outside Nhulunbuy, is famous throughout the world for its bark paintings, its role in promoting the rights of Indigenous Australians, and as the place where the Yidaki, or Didgeridoo, originated. The community of Gunbalanya, previously known as Oenpelli, in Western Arnhem Land is also famous for its bark painting.

Arnhem Land is notable for its Aboriginal rock-art, some of the finest examples of which can be found at Ubirr Rock, Injalak Hill, and in the Canon Hill area. Some of these record early presence of Europeans, sometimes in such detail that Martini-Henry rifles can be identified. Other items depicted include axes, detailed paintings of aircraft and ships. In one remote shelter, several hundred kilometres from Darwin, is a depiction of the whole wharf at Darwin, including buildings and boats, the Europeans themselves being painted, with their hats and pipes, some without hands (which they have in their trouser pockets); one human figure near the East Alligator River crossing is painted with a gun and long pigtails down his back, identifiable as one of the Chinese labourers brought to Darwin in the late 19th century. The indigenous inhabitants also ritualistically produce temporary sand sculptures.

One Yolngu stone arrangement, at Maccasans Beach near Yirrkala, shows the layout of the Macassan praus used for Trepang fishing in the area, a legacy of Yolngu trade links with the people of Makassar on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. This trading relationship predates European settlement by some 200 years.

See also


  • Arnhem Land. Its History and Its People. 1954. R. M. & C. H. Berndt. F. W. Cheshire, Melbourne.

External links

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